Medical Evacuations Start in Syrian Rebel Enclave of Eastern Ghouta

The United Nations has been waiting for months to gain approval from the Syrian authorities, and last week Jan Egeland, the organization’s humanitarian adviser for Syria, said the situation was getting worse, with 494 people on the priority list for medical evacuations; the medical society said more than 600 needed evacuation.


Four patients were taken to hospitals in Damascus, the first of 29 critical cases approved for medical evacuation. The remainder are to be evacuated over the coming days.

Abdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“That number is going down, not because we are evacuating people but because they are dying,” he said. “We have tried now every single week for many months to get medical evacuations out, and food and other supplies in.”

Forces loyal to Mr. Assad have carried out air raids on Eastern Ghouta, while besieged rebels have fired mortars into neighboring Damascus. “That has nothing to do with the right of evacuating, and obligation to evacuate civilians,” Mr. Egeland said.

The evacuations came as a group of Syrian rebels, pinned down in a strategic area where the Israeli and Lebanese borders meet with Syria, said they had been given an ultimatum by government forces and their Iranian-backed militia allies: Surrender or face certain military defeat.

The Syrian Army, backed by local militias financed and equipped by Iran alongside Druze fighters from the area, have escalated their assault against Sunni rebels in an enclave in the foothills of Mount Hermon, close to both the Israeli and Lebanese borders.

The rebels have been encircled in Beit Jin, their main stronghold, after losing strategic areas in the hills and farms after over two months of near daily shelling and aerial strikes.

The Syrian Army was using a familiar approach, pushing opponents to rebel areas — in this case, Idlib Province — further from the Syrian capital after a twin tactic of siege and months of strikes on residential areas.

There were also more than 8,000 civilians who have been trapped in the remaining enclaves with their plight worsening, according to a rebel spokesman, Sohaib Alraheel.

Israel, which Syria has accused of helping the rebels, has expressed concern at the growing Iranian military influence in the Golan Heights and has stepped up its strikes against pro-Iranian targets inside Syria.

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